Clare County Library
Clare Archaeology
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | OS Maps | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

Archaeology of the Burren: Prehistoric Forts and Dolmens in North Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Part I: Kilfenora

Ballykinvarva; Five Other Cahers

Ballykinvarga (‘of the head of the market’), 135 feet × 155 feet.
This very fine fort, possibly the ‘Cathair Fhionnabhrach,’ reserved to the King of Cashel in the Book of Rights, appears in O’Brien’s Rental, [1] about 1380, as ‘baile cin mhargadh.’

Plan of Ballykinvarga
Plan of Ballykinvarga

It is first described by Eugene O’Curry, 1839, as ‘a very large caher. . . around which were formerly a great number of stones forming a circle about it.’ S.F. (? Ferguson) notices it thus:- ‘Close to Kilfenora is one of those stone plashed cyclopean fortresses. . . Caherflaherty.

View of Ballykinvarga Caher, near Kilfenora
View of Ballykinvarga Caher, near Kilfenora

Its dimensions are not comparable to those of the great Arran citadel, but the arrangement of the ramparts and the distribution of the stone caltrops in the space between the body of the fortress and the outer circumvallation are the same.’ [2] Lord Dunraven’s description is equally misleading, as he omits any account of its chevaux de frise, monoliths, and hut sites, and says its wall is double and its passage curved, which is not the case; he only calls it ‘one (fort) near Kilfenora.’ Mr. T. Foote also alludes to it in a letter to Du Noyer, 1862, ‘a fort that has pointed stones planted upright all around it.’[3]

Gateway, Ballykinvarga Caher
Gateway, Ballykinvarga Caher

When perfect it must have been a beautiful specimen; now the vandal country lads, rabbit-hunting and tearing blocks out of its wall, must soon bring it to complete ruin. It is well built of large blocks, 3 feet to 5 feet long, and where most perfect to the east, is 15 feet high. The wall consists of three sections; the central 4 feet thick, the others 5 feet; it probably had another terrace, 4 feet 6 inches thick, as it is 19 feet 6 inches thick in other parts. The walls have several upright joints. The gate faces S.S.E., its lintel, 7 feet 9 inches × 1 foot 4 inches × 3 feet, resting on side walls and corner posts [4] ; its outer face was blocked; and, as I saw it, the space was occupied by a colony of hedgehogs. A walled and sunken passage led eastward through the chevaux de frise, probably, as in the Greek and Esthonian forts, [5] to compel assailants to advance with their shield arm away from the wall. The inner enclosures extend in a fairly regular band round the western edge, where the wall is 7 feet high.

Pillar-stone and chevaux-de-frise, Ballykinvarga
Pillar-stone and chevaux-de-frise, Ballykinvarga

They recall the still more even compartments in Castle Chûn.[6] The chevaux de frise [7] is in two sections: the inner, about 46 feet wide, thickly set with pillars about 3 feet high, with smaller spikes between, and still nearly impassible, save to the south. A second band extends for 50 feet more, but is less thickly set with stones; it has a border mound set with large blocks, [8] one nearly 7 feet x 2 feet 7 inches x 1 foot.[9] A large hoard of silver coins ‘of Edward II.’ were found at the foot of a pillar and, much more precious to the occupants, a streamlet wells out on the southern side.[10] Several groups of blocks remain in the adjoining field. I am not satisfied that any one was a cromlech. A small rude fort, overthrown for 95 feet, crowns the ridge 235 feet to the N.E. Two curved walls cross its garth, and a two-doored cloghaun stood in the northern loop. From its roughness and choice site it may be the older fort of the two. There must have been some danger apprehended from this direction as an addition seems to have been made to the chevaux de frise at the same side.

Five more cahers stand within 2000 feet east of the great fort. Kilcameen is quite levelled, and is now a burial place for children. It stands on a knoll, and has a few rude pillars and cairns, and two ancient graves marked out by a kerb of great slabs, like the sides of a cromlech; the western is 6 feet long, the eastern 9 feet, and traces of a third adjoin. Tobercameen well lies in the depression southward, and is dry in summer. Beyond, on a grassy knoll, a few scattered stones mark another small fort. It had a sharp angle to the S.E., and 12 hollows pit its eastern slope.[11] A circular fort, also in Caherminane (100 feet), has a well-built wall, with two faces, 8 feet high and 9 feet thick. They are I think, hammer dressed [12] in places to take angles of other stones. The gate faced S.E., and had corner posts and lintels 7 feet long; near it, to the south, two steps remain in the inner face of the wall.

 

Previous

Main

Next